From Peer Mentoring To Faculty Training, University Aims To Graduate More Students

Jenny Sanchez is a first-generation college student.

“My mom stopped at sixth grade and my dad stopped freshman year of high school and they didn’t continue from there,” she said.

The 19-year-old is a freshman at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), studying biology and pre-med. She wants to be a pediatrician one day.

“So, they’re like, ‘Do what we couldn’t do. And like be a better person,’” Jenny continued.

In the fall of 2018, 10,232 undergrad students attended UNC. Of those, 38 percent were first-generation students.

“I would say right now our greatest efforts need to be focused on retention. I’m not satisfied with our graduation and retention rates at this university,” said Andrew Feinstein, president of UNC. “We retain about 70 percent of our students from their freshman to sophomore year and we should be much higher than that.”

The Center for Human Enrichment (CHE) is an academic support program at UNC that works with first-generation students through a federally funded TRIO program. TRIO includes programs that assist and serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds, from middle school through college, in their pursuit of a degree.

Sanchez was part of another TRIO program in high school. So, when she decided to attend UNC, Sanchez applied to CHE and was accepted.

“The CHE program is actually the best place in my opinion,” Sanchez said.  “I love it here.”

CHE serves 200 students and provides an array of services including advisors, academic support and financial aid assistance. The staff, most of whom also identify as first-generation students, regularly meet with CHE participants.

“I think it helps when we are able to tell students, ‘I get it. I had that same experience when I was in school,’” said Shawanna Kimbrough-Hayward, director of CHE. “Knowing that there’s someone walking alongside them helps them to do well and to graduate.

In 2018 CHE students had a higher six-year graduation rate, 65 percent, than total undergraduate students, 47 percent, at UNC.

Lizbeth Cortez-Contreras (left) and Jenny Sanchez are paired through the CHE peer mentoring program. (Ryan Budnick for KUNC)

Another component of CHE is the peer mentoring program.

“It’s a cool opportunity for a first-generation student to have another first-generation student to just talk about life,” Kimbrough-Hayward said.

Sanchez’s mentor is 19-year-old sophomore Lizbeth Cortez-Contreras, who is pursuing a double major in pre-nursing and nutrition with a minor in Spanish. Sanchez and Cortez-Contreras were paired together in part because of their academic interests and because they are both female LatinX students.

“As a peer mentor, I was to give Jenny the sources and support I didn’t have my freshman year,” Cortez-Contreras said.

Cortez-Contreras went to a high school in the Denver metro area where the class sizes were small and most of her classmates were people of color.  When she took introductory biology her first semester of freshman year, Cortez-Contreras said it was a shock. There were about 200 students in the lecture course and most of them were white.

“So being the only brown person there, it was kind of like outcasting to me,” Cortez-Contreras said. “I felt like kind of like the ugly duckling.”

Changing How Faculty Teach

In 2017, UNC received a $1 million, five-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The goal of the grant is to help students of color – like Cortez-Contreras and Sanchez – who are studying science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) succeed.

“The grant really focuses on increasing the diversity of students entering the programs but also looking at equitable outcomes,” said Susan Keenan, a professor and director of the School of Biological Sciences.

Keenan heads up the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant which focuses on faculty change. The goal is to help faculty understand the student population and create environments within and outside their classrooms that enable each student to feel like they belong.

The grant was received in September 2017 and 10 faculty members from across the STEM disciplines are part of the program. They participated in summer workshops and have monthly sessions during the school year. Here the faculty discuss different topics like the structure of the syllabus or encouraging female students and students of color to participate in class. Then action steps are given which the faculty can choose to incorporate while teaching.

“They go into the classroom and try and then they reflect on what they’ve learned and what’s working and what’s not working,” Keenan said. “When we come back together everyone has had an experience. They share that and then we kind of all learn collectively from what people are doing.” 

Susan Keenan is the director of the School of Biological Sciences at UNC and head of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant. (Ryan Budnick for KUNC)

There are about 80 faculty members in STEM at UNC. The overall goal of program is for 50 percent of the faculty to go through the training. Keenan hopes that will be a big enough group that change will occur. She said taking responsibility, as an institution, for students’ success is the right way to go.

“I think that having faculty learn and understand the experiences of the students on campus is incredibly important,” Keenan said. “Creating an environment where everyone feels like they can achieve and they can thrive here.”

Paying It Forward

Cortez-Contreras is finishing up her sophomore year at UNC. She works as a front desk assistant in the CHE office, is part of the club tennis team and hopes to study abroad in Peru or Colombia soon. Cortez-Contreras said she feels confident now.

“I feel like I got the whole college thing,” she said. “So, I know what to expect and like I know what’s next, what’s ahead of me.”

Sanchez is also feeling more confident as her first year in college ends. During high school, she was part of a college readiness program and is now paying it forward, tutoring middle and high school students in the same or similar programs. Sanchez said it was a great experience for her to have college students as tutors. They made her feel more comfortable and prepared going into UNC.

“I just told myself, ‘You know what? I want to help those other students because there could be students that are terrified to come to college,’” Sanchez said. “I just want to be there like, ‘You know what? It’s not that scary.’”

Hire Me: Educating Colorado’s Changing Workforce was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

Apprenticeship Program Benefits Colorado Company And Employees

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniels reports on apprenticeship programs trying fix the skilled worker shortage in manufacturing jobs.

Williams Jones sticks a magnet to a mix tank pump motor, then bends down and points a strobe light at the machine. He’s collecting data to make sure the machine is working properly.

Jones is a PdM lubrication technician and second-class mechanic at the Owens Corning roofing plant in Denver. His job is to monitor the equipment, do preventative maintenance and fix machine parts.

Jones really likes his job.

“Every single day it’s something new and that’s amazing to me,” he said. “I get to learn a lot of stuff.”

William Jones works as a PdM lubrication technician and second class mechanic at the Owens Corning roofing plant in Denver. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

Jones tried a semester of college after graduating from high school, but it wasn’t for him. Four years ago, he started at Owens Corning in an entry-level position before switching to maintenance.

“All my education has been through this company, honestly,” said Jones. “They’ve provided me with a lot of courses to help develop me, which is why I like it and that’s why I’m still here.”

Jones is part of a certified two-year industrial mechanic apprenticeship program at Owens Corning. The program was created last July because the company was having a hard time filling critical skilled positions.

“What we have found is that there are less people that tend to pursue manufacturing as a career option,” said Jim Hill, the plant site leader. “We have to turn inside to fill those positions.”

The curriculum ranges from reading materials to shadowing more seasoned mechanics to hands-on-training. Its designed to get employees like Jones to a journeyman level.

Seth Davis, a Mobile Learning Lab instructor, teaches Owens Corning employees about mechanical systems as part of the company’s apprenticeship program. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

Joe Garcia is the chancellor of the Colorado Community College System, the state’s largest system of higher education which educates over 137,000 students around the state every year. Garcia, who has spent most of his professional career in education, said it’s important to understand that a postsecondary credential doesn’t always equal a bachelor’s degree.

“Only about half of the jobs really require a bachelor’s degree,” said Garcia, who’s spent most of his professional career in education. “Many others require an associate’s degree or even a certificate. And if you talk to employers, they say their biggest challenge is really finding those middle-skilled workers.”

As part of the apprenticeship program, Jones is taking a course on mechanical systems. But instead of going to a community college, the classroom is in a 48-foot trailer parked right outside the plant.

The Mobile Learning Lab was created by the Pueblo Corporate College at Pueblo Community college. The corporate college specializes in providing educational opportunities to non-degree seeking students.

“We have replicated what a student would see if they’re on a campus taking classes in any of our technical training labs,” said Amanda Corum, executive director of the Pueblo Corporate College. “We have all that hands-on training equipment inside of an enclosed trailer.”

The first mobile learning lab was built in 2007. There are now seven that travel all over the state and have also provided training in Utah and New Mexico. The labs provide courses in electrical systems, mechanical systems, toolroom CNC milling and welding.

Pueblo Corporate College has seven mobile learning labs that travel around the state, providing courses in electrical systems, mechanical systems, toolroom CNC milling and welding. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

The labs were built for two reasons, said Corum. First, there was a capacity issue on campus. Enrollment in these classes was up so there wasn’t enough room for employees to be trained. Second, employers wanted a flexible training solution that could come to them.

“(Employers) have those travel costs that they’re reducing. They have access to their employees while they’re in training,” said Corum. “So should an emergency arise, they can tap into those employees that are right there.”

Lack Of Skilled Workers

In an apprentice program, a person is an employee first and a student second. Companies create these programs to enhance the skills of their workers. This could be either standout employees that want to move up or new hires with potential, said Lee McMains, chair of the industrial technology and energy studies at Aims Community College.

“Really start to not only teach them the culture of the company but also the skills that are needed in the company,” he said. “So, that they can provide more value as they move forward up through the corporate and career ladder.

The largest sector the Mobile Learning Labs serve is manufacturing, but they are also used to train employees that work in energy, oil and gas and mining, according to Corum.

“There is a cliff that’s coming and maintenance and automation technicians, they’re getting ready to retire.”

— Lee McMains, Aims Community College

In 2016, there were about 150,000 manufacturing jobs in Colorado, ranking it ninth for total estimated jobs by industry. These were high-paying jobs which paid, on average, $65,000 a year, according to state data.

A lack of skilled workers has been an issue in the manufacturing industry for more than a decade, said McMains. High school graduates who wanted to work with their hands were encouraged to pursue a four-year engineering degree, rather than a two-year technical one, which led to a lack of skilled technicians coming out of college, continued McMains.

“Now there is a cliff that’s coming and maintenance and automation technicians, they’re getting ready to retire,” he said. “There’s nobody coming behind them because everybody’s been told that they need to be an engineer and an engineer is just not going to work with their hands the way a technician would.”

Investing In People

The state is helping adults complete a postsecondary degree by investing in affordable and innovation options like the Mobile Learning Labs. Companies pay for the training and customize the curriculum to their needs, then the classroom comes right to the job site. It’s a win-win for the employer and employee.

William Jones and his coworkers go over an assignment during a mechanical systems course as part of Owens Corning’s apprenticeship program. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

“We need to invest in our people, so in the long term the plant can be sustainable,” said Peter Tobin, the maintenance leader at the Owens Corning plant. “I think it’s really shown a mutual investment from Owens Corning and from our employees to reach a goal.”

Jones recently finished a course in hydraulics that was also taught in the Mobile Learning Lab. While in this class, he went back to the plant during a break. Jones walked by a piece of equipment and heard a problem similar to one they’d just discussed in the lab.

“I was able to correct that issue right away and it was thanks to that course,” said Jones. “That’s the biggest benefit for me, is I’m learning stuff that I can do right now and I get to do it in there and out here. It’s awesome.”

Hire Me: Educating Colorado’s Changing Workforce was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

University Program Is ‘Fostering Success’ For Students

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel reports on a support group for college students from foster care.

Spencer Hall was about 13 or 14 when his life changed.

“I was at my brother’s house,” said Hall. “We had the police and social worker knock on my brother’s door and tell me that they were taking me into foster care.”

Hall bounced around a couple different foster homes before joining the army at 18. Seven years and an associate degree later, he transferred to Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

“I always dreamed, dreamed of being a student at a university,” said Hall.

Soon, the 26-year-old junior hopes to do something that very few students from foster care do: graduate with a four-year degree.

Spencer Hall (left) and his mentor, Melissa Henke, are part of Colorado State University’s Fostering Success Program which provides support for independent students. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

Colorado does not keep data on this but nationally, depending on the state, between three and 10 percent of students from foster care backgrounds will receive a bachelor’s degree.

Hall is a first-generation college student and his first semester at CSU didn’t start off well.

“My first week, I walked around campus, I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt unconnected, I didn’t feel supported,” said Hall. “I was in tears, I felt absolutely terrified. I felt like I wasn’t going to make it.”

But soon after arriving at CSU, Hall was invited to join the Fostering Success Program. The program supports independent students from different backgrounds including foster care, emancipation, kinship care, ward of court, orphan and unaccompanied minor or homeless youth. Fostering Success fills in the gaps for students who can’t ask parents or other family for support. Students are identified through admission and financial aid applications.

Andrea Fortney is the senior coordinator with Colorado State University’s Fostering Success Program which provides support and mentoring for independent students. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

“We are a community of about 200 independent students,” said Andrea Fortney, the program’s senior coordinator. “It’s a free program, they can participate as much or as little as they want.”

The Fostering Success Program is donor-funded. It was created in 2010 by two graduate students who were also in foster care. Back then, there were just 13 students in Fostering Success and the program mainly focused on sending care packages. It was a way to show the students they were valued and important.

“The students were feeling a little isolated because they were seeing students in their residence halls receive packages from families,” said Fortney.

Since then the program has grown to include scholarships, an emergency fund, family dinner nights and events to expose students to high-impact activities like study abroad experience and internships.

Fostering Success launched a new initiative last fall, a mentorship program funded by Educate Tomorrow. The mentors are four independent students and there are about 30 mentees who are first-year or transfer students.

“We’re the people to lean on,” said CSU senior and mentor Melissa Henke. “We’re the people to come in and talk about like you know, ‘I had a rough day. I’m trying to figure out how to get through this biology exam.’”

Henke, a 23-year-old psychology major, has eight mentees. She regularly meets with them at the Fostering Success Program offices on campus. Henke also plans group social activities, like going to a movie and an escape room.

“If you’re really hungry or you’re worried about paying rent or you’re homeless, it’s going to be fairly difficult to do well in college.”

— Andrea Fortney, Fostering Success senior coordinator

Henke is Hall’s mentor. Hall is in the Army reserves and will have to miss the last week of school and finals to attend annual training. He said he thinks his professors will be accommodating, but is still nervous.

“It’s just the fear of like knowing that I have so many scholarships and this could potentially affect that. There’s a lot of anxiety behind that,” Hall said.

During one of their meetings, Henke throws out different actions Hall could take to resolve this issue. One of her recommendations is to contact Adult Learner and Veterans Services, which Hall didn’t realize could be a resource when talking to his professors.

Melissa Henke, a senior at Colorado State University, helps make a marinara sauce during a cooking class sponsored by the Fostering Success Program and taught by Kalyn Garcia, a registered dietician and nutritionist at the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

Henke’s main job as a mentor is to advise and connect her mentees to campus services to help them succeed at CSU. She wishes she had a mentor, Henke said, after transferring to CSU as a junior last year.

“This program is like the most meaningful work that I’ve ever done,” she said. “But, being a mentor and connecting people with these resources has also helped me connect with these resources.”

Since the 2008 recession, almost every state in the country has reduced funding for four-year public institutions while also raising tuition. Colorado is no exception. State funding has decreased by almost 10 percent and students pay over $4,000 more to go to school.

The high cost of college can disproportionally affect independent students.

“If you’re really hungry or you’re worried about paying rent or you’re homeless, it’s going to be fairly difficult to do well in college,” said Fortney.

The Fostering Success Program, and its mission to support and connect independent students to CSU resources and services, is improving student success. Their four-year graduation rate is similar to other CSU students, said Fortney, but the six-year rate is higher.

Hall is about to finish his first year at CSU. After switching his major to social work, he is excited about his classes and on track to graduate in the next couple years. Both Hall and Henke are thinking of getting master’s degrees in the future. “Having someone help me navigate the process was amazing,” said Hall.

Hire Me: Educating Colorado’s Changing Workforce was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

Innovative Program Aims To Erase Equity Gaps In Higher Ed, Tech Jobs

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel reports on a program that puts teens on a pathway to tech jobs.

Job interviews can be intimidating, especially when you’re a teenager. But Adriana Guzman is prepared for the first question: Tell me a little bit about yourself?

“I’m a junior at Skyline High school,” she replied. “I’m also enrolled (at) Front Range Community College where I have 30 credits, college credits.”

Adriana Guzman participates in a mock interview at the Innovation Center in Longmont. She is junior in Skyline High School’s P-Tech program. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

The 17-year-old is trying to land a client management intern job at IBM in Boulder County. Guzman is meeting with an IBM employee, but the interview is a mock one, taking place at the Innovation Center in Longmont.

Guzman is part of Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) at Skyline High School. The program, called Falcon Tech, is a partnership between the St. Vrain Valley School District, Front Range Community College and IBM. Students will finish high school while earning an associate degree in computer information systems.

“What we need to do is integrate the community college experience with the high school experience so you’re getting both at the same time,” said Brandon Shaffer, executive director of legal and governmental affairs, community outreach and P-TECH for the St. Vrain Valley School District.

In 2015 Skyline selected 50 eighth-grade students, who applied to the program, to be part of Falcon Tech’s first cohort. The group, which included Guzman, took their first college class second semester of freshman year. There are now three cohorts of students in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades.

Another part of the P-TECH model is a mentorship program. Each Falcon Tech student is paired with an IBM employee who serves as a mentor. The whole group meets for regular events like this mock interview session for juniors and their mentors. The activity is to prepare the students for upcoming interviews for summer internships at IBM.

Adriana Guzman, a junior at Skyline High School, with her IBM mentor, Mirriah Cantrell, at a P-Tech event at the Innovation Center in Longmont. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

Mirriah Cantrell works in outsourcing at IBM and has been Guzman’s mentor for three years.

“It’s been a great amount of growth that I’ve been able to see her go through,” Cantrell said. “The chance to help these kids to excel is what drove me to do it. It was just to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

Setting Students On A Different Path

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the P-TECH bill in 2016. It allows students, starting in the ninth grade, to qualify for in-state college tuition. St. Vrain Valley not only pays for their students’ college classes while in high school, but up to two years after graduation.

“I think this is the direction that education is ultimately going to go,” said Shaffer.

Falcon Tech sophomores and their mentors work on a problem during at P-Tech event at IBM Boulder. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

The first two years of the program, the students take general and core classes together. Then junior year, they start to specialize in one of three pathways: tech support, web development or programming. Front Range Community College provides the course work for the students.

The three pathways were selected based on the needs of the IBM offices in Colorado and to prepare the students for middle skills jobs, said Marty Goldberg, director of high school programs for Front Range Community College, Boulder County campus. These jobs require technical and workplace skills and pay a middle-class wage.

“This is an opportunity for those underserved populations, under-represented populations in our colleges and universities to get a leg up in life,” Goldberg said. “Set them on a different path towards something that’s meaningful, fulling and has a secure future.”

Source: Colorado Department of Higher Education

The Attainment Gap

More than 56 percent of Coloradans have a certificate or college degree, making the state one of the most educated in the country. But this is short of what’s needed for Colorado’s changing workforce where, as early as next year, almost three-fourths will require a postsecondary degree. One issue is the gap between graduation rates for students of color compared to their white counterparts.

Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing ethnic group in Colorado. Most of that growth comes from within (birth rate), rather than in-migration (people moving to the state). The Hispanic population is younger than Colorado’s total population and makes up about 33 percent of residents under the age of 18, according to Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer.

But less than 30 percent of Hispanics finished a higher education program last year while the completion rate for white students was over 60 percent. The attainment gap between the two groups is the second highest in the nation.

“Some of our concern is, as we’re becoming more and more diverse and in that diversity, there’s a huge differential in educational attainment,” said Garner “That unless we make some significant changes, that we could see Colorado’s educational attainment fall simply based on the fact that we’re becoming more diverse.”

Creating A Talent Pipeline

The population at Skyline High School is 59 percent Hispanic and 64 percent minority students.

“A lot of them aren’t just the first to be in college, maybe the first to graduate high school and so it’s a different pathway,” said Louise March, the school counselor for the Skyline’s P-TECH program. “And sometimes it’s difficult to succeed when the rest of the family isn’t. So, they’ve very brave and they’re breaking barriers.”

The first P-TECH program was launched at a high school in Brooklyn in 2011. It was created to address the gap in skills needed for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and high-growth industry jobs, providing underserved youth with a direct pathway to a college degree and career readiness. Since then, P-TECH has been implemented in schools across the country.

Eric Berngen, IBM program manager for Skyline High School’s P-Tech, at an event for juniors and their mentors at the Innovation Center in Longmont. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

“In order to really create a talent pipeline,” said Eric Berngen, the IBM program manager for Falcon Tech, “we had to go down to the high school and community college and start our partnerships there and working towards building our own talent.

After finishing P-TECH, Skyline students could be hired at IBM or other technology companies. But they don’t have to go directly into the workforce. Some will continue their education and attend a four-year college like Guzman, who will be the first in her family to get a postsecondary degree.

“They will be able to transfer my credits,” Guzman said. “So, I will become a junior in college right away and I will be able to get my business degree.”

P-TECH is gaining in popularity. Since Falcon Tech was approved in 2015, six more programs have opened at high schools around the state. They partner with different community colleges and businesses.

Hire Me: Educating Colorado’s Changing Workforce was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

More Counselors Help Students Plan For Future, Thanks To State Grant

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel reports on efforts to increase the number of school counselors around the state.

High school freshman Ecko Gardner-Huff sits in the school library at Sobesky Academy. She’s taking a survey of different career options, checking off the jobs that sound the most interesting.

“Help conduct group therapy sessions? Yes,” Gardner-Huff marks it with her pencil. “Take care of children or daycare? Yes. Teach high school classes? No.”

Gardner-Huff is working with her school counselor Dina Klancir. Klancir is the only full-time counselor at Sobesky Academy in Wheatridge. The small K-12 school is part of the Jefferson County School District and serves students with social and emotional disabilities including autism and severe anxiety.

School counselor Dina Klancir stands in front of display that shows how classes correlate to different careers. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

When it comes to a life and a career after high school, Klancir said all options are on the table for the students.

“Part of my role is if that’s something that they do see as a possibility, is creating that potential for them and maybe opening a door where they didn’t see a door before,” she said.

School counselors are the utility players at a school, said Carlos Hipolito-Delgado, an associate professor of counselor education at the University of Colorado Denver. They work with students on their academic and career planning and social and emotional development.

“So that (students have) got better social skills,” said Hipolito-Delgado. “That they are able to excel academically and that they’re able to have multiple options and multiple pathways going into post-high school life.”

Prioritizing School Counselors

There are not enough counselors in Colorado’s K-12 public schools.

A decade ago there was one counselor for every 500 students, double the number the American School Counselor Association recommends. The state’s low per-pupil funding, which is almost $3,000 less than the national average, is part of the issue. Districts just don’t have enough money to hire counselors.

“Colorado has local control with the way their dollars are spent,” said Andy Tucker, director of post-secondary and workforce readiness for the Department of Education. “So, it’s a matter of prioritization around where school districts feel that they need to prioritize their dollars.”

This lack of counselors led to the creation of the School Counselor Corps Grant Program (SCCGP). The grant was approved by the state Legislature in 2008 and funded a year later. Schools receive the grant based on criteria including free and reduced lunch, graduation and dropout rates.

Jeffco Schools Counselor Corps Grant counselors meet every other week to discuss different topics and share resources. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

Over the past decade, 57 percent of school districts have received the grant and more than 300 school counselors have served students across the state. 90 percent of schools and districts have kept their counselors over time, explained Tucker, and 98 percent of the programs have remained in place after the grant ended.

“Sustainability is an expectation in the grant program,” said Tucker.

Klancir has been a school counselor for a decade. Two years ago, she was hired through the SCCGP to work at Sobesky Academy. She is one of 10 grant counselors working in Jeffco middle and high schools.

In 2011, Jeffco’s ratio was one counselor for every 291 middle and high schools students. Since then, the district has worked to drop its secondary school ratio. While it varies by school, the range is now one counselor to 275-325 students for the sixth through 12th grades.

Elementary schools are now eligible for the grant, so the district plans to place a couple counselors there with their latest round of funding. 

The grant works on a four-year cycle. The first is a planning year to establish the needs of the school, then a counselor is hired there for the remaining three years. This creates a staggered system, with a new cohort of counselors starting every year. The cohorts meet as a group every other week to discuss different topics and share resources.

Sonya Sallack, a former School Counselor Corp Grant counselor, is now the corps grant manager at Jeffco Schools. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

“I think that’s one of the greatest assets of the grant and having multiple cohorts,” said Sonya Sallack, SCCGP manager for Jeffco schools. “We have a group that really gets to work together and collaborate and problem-solve together.”

Klancir said the cohort model is helpful. Of the current grant counselors, half are in their first year and the other in their second.

The counselors work in different schools and sometimes combine field trips and share buses. They work with a lot of students who have overcome significant hurdles in their lives, Klancir explained, which can lead to the counselors experiencing vicarious trauma.

“You get views of what’s happening at different schools and so you get great ideas because everybody is working with a different population of students,” Klancir said. “It’s a great support network.”

Higher Education, Higher Paying Job

The Colorado Department of Higher Education has a master plan for 66 percent of adults to have a certificate, two-year and four-year degree by 2025. One of the four strategic goals under the plan is to increase credential completion.

In 2016, institutions of public higher education produced about 48,850 credentials. The department’s goal is to increase that by an additional 73,500 certificates and degrees in six years. 

Over the past year, Colorado has seen strong growth in construction, mining and professional business services jobs, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Some of the top industries in Colorado are retail and construction, which can require a high school diploma or certificate, and professional, scientific and technical services (like lawyers and engineers) which require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“(Colorado has) I think a really rich and diverse industry mix,” said Gedney. “A really unique mixture and kind of degrees required for the industries and occupations.”

While having a postsecondary certificate or degree can qualify a person for a well-paying job, Gedney said earning potential increases with educational attainment. People with a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree can earn 63 percent more than those with a high school diploma.

Options For The Future

Garret Duchesneau is a senior at Sobesky Academy. While finishing high school, he is also enrolled at Warren Tech. Duchesneau originally planned to attend a four-year college but decided technical school was a better fit. He is studying plumbing while working about 20 hours a week as an apprentice. Duchesneau plans to get his license and work his way up to a master plumber.

Klancir invited Duchesneau to talk to the other high school students about his job and trade careers in general.

Garrett Duchesneau, high school senior and plumbing apprentice, shows lead pipe to a younger student during his presentation at Sobesky Academy in Wheatridge. (Stephanie Daniel/KUNC)

“(It’s a) really neat opportunity for them to get to hear Garrett’s story,” Klancir said. “College is a possibility but so are all these other careers that are in dire need if you want to stay in Colorado.”

Gardner-Huff is finished taking the job survey. She checked ‘yes’ for several jobs that fall under social, artistic and enterprising occupations. Gardner-Huff is also interested in culinary arts but for now, she’s keeping her options open.

“The one thing I really want,” she said, “is to have different degrees (in) what I’m good at.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with corrected figures from Jeffco Schools regarding the ratio of counselors to students.

Hire Me: Educating Colorado’s Changing Workforce was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.